The Tyranny of Choice

February 2, 2009


I don’t do very well with choice.  I freeze when I need to decide what kind of candy to get in the candy aisle (am I in a chocolate mood? a gummy candy mood? and, if a gummy candy mood, do I want twizzlers or gummy bears?  and if I want gummy bears do I want the cheap-o generic ones or the Haribo?), choosing a prom dress was a drama-filled torturous experience (even by teenage girl standards), and deciding which movie I move up on the net flix queue can have me paralyzed for half-an-hour. I am always worried about what I will miss once I make my choice.

So when I heard this great piece on Radio Lab about choice I felt like maybe I wasn’t such an indecisive freak after all.  According to the show, one often ends up regretting decisions that are made when there are many choices in the table.  Apparently this is because you are often left knowing what you didn’t take and missing that option.  So, really, I am just being very, very careful in my deliberations.

So then, of course, I started to think about how this relates to the decisions we make as parents/mothers and professionals.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a choice of whether or not to stay home with our kids in some capacity- whether it is to be a stay-at-home parent, or to work from home, or to work part-time- these choices are often a double-edged sword.  We are often left wondering what our other life would be like, had we stayed working full-time.  We wonder if we have screwed ourselves over professionally.  We sometimes feel like our brains have turned into complete mush given that the vast majority of our conversations (if they can be called that) during the day revolve around which is the best technique for knocking over block towers.

And I was thinking- it is kind of like being in the candy aisle at the grocery store.  You are overwhelmed by the choices you have in front of you because many of them look really good.  And whether you choose the Sour Patch Kids or the king-size Twix- in the end, you are going to end up with a stomachache from eating the whole thing and yet still a pang of regret for the one you left on the shelf.


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